Film Review: “Paterson” – a mood poem

I’ve just watched “Paterson” – a Jim Jarmusch film about a bus driver who secretly writes poetry and delights in overheard conversation.  It’s a really gentle, observant film with not much action, but a lot of listening.  Here’s a really good summary of it by reviewer Mark Kermode, who sums it up as a ‘mood poem”

If you ask “Is this a film I should rush out and buy?”  The very word ‘rush’ is a sign that you’re not yet in the right mood for it.

The film/poem is slow and meditative – as Mark Kermode (BBC film reviewer) says, it slows you down.  But there’s enough literary allusions, repetitions and visual joys to make it clear that there’s a lot of planning in its scripting.

The bits of conversation we overhear are little sketches of human life – one of two men talking boastingly about attractive women whom they can scarcely bring themselves to speak to – is wonderfully reminiscent of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, in “Not only but also”.

For anyone who is interested in writing poetry, there are little treats and allusions along the way, to writing.  Even the other main character, Paterson’s girlfriend/wife is obsessed with black and white and spends the movie gradually and dreamily painting everything in it monochrome, even as he is transcribing the world down in black ink on white paper.

The third main character in the film is a Bulldog.  So there is a treat for keen doggie owners.  Apparently, the role was originally meant to be played by a jack russell, but the dog trainer insisted the Director meet a bulldog – and it was perfect casting.

An interesting question through the film is the one people keep asking the main character: “Are you a poet?”  He gives various replies – which are worth thinking about.  Then nonchalently says things like “there’s a lot of internal rhyme” – which shows a very technical understanding of poetry writing.

Film Theme: Who do you say that you are?  And when you’re a writer, what are the signs?

Poems in the film were written by Ron Padgett, who imagined himself into the world of the film’s main character.  He has taught writing, and says that if people would just let themselves use their imagination, that would be close to poetry.


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